Is The Arctic Being Saved?
By many metrics 2016 was an unpleasant year, particularly in respect to the worsening environmental degradation occurring around the world. This may be the reason as to why the unprecedented climate agreement between North American leaders to "Save the Arctic" was especially sweet.
The severity of the crisis the planet is facing was made evident with the declaration this past August that the Earth is in a new geological epoch- the “Anthropocene”- which is defined by the profound impact humanity has had. A new report released by the United Nations suggests that the time has passed to cap warming at 2 degrees Celsius, and that long standing issues such as the shrinking arctic sea ice, land degradation, and biodiversity loss are continuing to get worse.
Though these issues have been pressing for decades, global leaders seem to finally be comprehending the scale and the permanence of humanities impact. We enter into 2017 with considerable hope that we will progress through these difficult and complex challenges to the environment.
A record setting 175 countries united and signed the worlds first comprehensive agreement - a long fought deal aimed at limiting global temperature increase, increasing resilience against the effects of climate change, and increasing financing towards climate issues. Leaders came together stating that the era of consumption is over and that it was time to be accountable. The Paris Agreement came into force November 4, 2016 and each nation has set their own targets for reducing emissions.
The power that people possess when united for a common cause was demonstrated in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline and the Brazilian hydroelectric dam. The DAPL was a 1,100 mile project threatening to degrade the water and land used by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and destroy Native burial sites and sacred places. Thousands rallied against the injustice and and the international swell of solidarity made headlines. This led to the Obama administration revoking authorization for construction on federally controlled lands and pressuring the pipeline owners for a voluntary halt where Standing Rock protesters were centred. The plans to build a huge hydroelectric dam through the Amazon were put on hold as the governments refusal to acknowledge indigenous territory came to light. The dam would have destroyed thousands of hectares of land as well as impacted the livelihood of over 10,000 indigenous people.
An astounding degree of international stewardship arose in protecting the earths oceans. A highpoint in marine preservation occurred in September 2016 as a handful of South American countries agreed to protect 10,000 square miles of ocean near the Galapagos. In October, a deal was made to protect 600,000 square miles of ocean off the Antarctic. Twenty-five countries, including Russia, the UK, and South Africa, reached an agreement for the Ross Sea to remain untouched, creating the worlds largest marine reserve. Technological breakthroughs are also being made in reducing by-catch in fisheries and preventing bio-diversity devastation.
For the first time, clean energy sources produced more power than oil and coal. Though energy from fossil fuels still counts for a majority of energy generation in the United States, a report by the U.S. Energy Information Agency concluded that, by 2040, renewable energy will be the dominant source of electricity worldwide. The U.S and Canada are also working together to facilitate the integration of renewables into their interconnected grid, improve efficiency standards, accelerate clean energy technology innovations and advance global clean energy efforts.
The Arctic Protection Plan, introduced by North American leaders, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau, signified a bold declaration towards permanent protection of Arctic ice caps. The combined leadership of the USA, the world's economic superpower, and Canada, with its vast pristine wilderness, indicate a commitment and resolve to kick-start a low carbon global economy and confront the challenges of the changing Arctic. They have announced that they will be protecting the Atlantic and Arctic from offshore drilling and blocking all new oil and gas projects. With Indigenous and Northern partnerships, they plan to conserve the Arctic with decisions made by responsible science- based leadership, and build a sustainable Arctic economy.
The world has had it rough but we have come out the other side hopeful and resilient. Precedence has been set as our leaders of 2016 set the pace for the upcoming twelve months. The challenges 2017 will bring, namely US president- elect Trump, his goal to dissolve the Paris Agreement and the incredible beliefs of some that climate change is a hoax fabricated by the Chinese, are daunting. The successful green milestones from the past few months may be indicative of a future where people will work together to achieve even greater global climate improvements. Consistency from our global leaders teamed with the growing collective climate consciousness of individuals will maintain an irreversible and unstoppable green transformation for 2017.